Will Assad forfeit refugees homes under the new property law?

Property Law 10 that has received wide attention by many Syria observers. Sensational headlines like this “10m Syrians at risk of forfeiting homes under new property law” by “@martinchulov is a microcosm of the way this important issue has been covered. I will try to add more color/sense to the discussion:

Those on the opposition side, as well as many Syria observers, have referred to this law as “forced displacement”. Some have even claimed that its main motive is to move the majority Sunnis out of these areas and replace them with Shias or others. Let’s first try to stick to the facts:

  • Law 10 is largely built on Decree 66 of 2012 which was crafted to deal with two areas in the Damascus Governorate. Those two areas were the pilot project that led to Law 10 which effectively is a comprehensive attempt to take Decree 66 nationally.
  • In order to understand the rationale of Law 10, best to think of the alternative. How does a country undergo reconstruction when many areas are totally destroyed? Your first question is who owns what. The law tries to establish this fact first.
  • Once an area goes under the “Tanzeem” and is ready for reconstruction, the law demands that legal deed owners prove ownership. If the owner is out of the country, a relative (as distant as the second cousin) can provide the deed on owner’s behalf.
  • Legal deed owners will eventually own shares in the project that will be constructed in their area. Questions related to valuation are addressed in detail by the law. Those interested in such details ought to read the document in full.
  • What about those who have lived in areas now designated ready for reconstruction but who lacked any legal ownership and hence were part of the illegal housing stock? The law will have them move to newly designated areas especially built to accommodate them.
  • One wonders if those writing about “forced ethnic displacement” have actually read the law. Every country coming out of a war and in need of rebuilding entire destroyed neighborhoods must first legislate before asking investors (private or public) to step in.
  • Without legislation, imagine people returning to say Jobar in Damascus or Bustan al-Basha in Aleppo and starting to build on their own. What code? What property lines? What legal basis? What about the infrastructure underneath? Law 10 is the State’s legislative blueprint.
  • One wishes that Syria had anything similar to this law but 50 years ago. Instead, Syria (like others in the region) suffered from a shocking increase in Illegal housing that has had tremendous negative social, economic, demographic & political consequences on the country.
  • Some reports claim that up to 40% of Syria’s housing stock could have been built illegally. The war that destroyed many of the areas where these homes were built will now force the country to address this issue. Many of those residents may now have to move to different areas.
  • Again, Legal owners in such areas, on the other hand, will likely become shareholders in what will be new developments. Yes, there will inevitably be winners and losers. Decree 66 of 2012 was the pilot project that the State used and was comfortable rolling out nationally.
  • Those who see the law as “ethnic forced displacement” must first take their time and read both decree 66 and Law 10 before making such statements. Surely, it would make more sense for interested observers to discuss a specific part of the law that they find legally problematic.

    Follow the author on Twitter: @EHSANI22 

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